FlixChatter [Guest] Review: Dark Places (2015)

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After a tragedy occurs, what happens next? When a child loses their whole family to darkness and death, where do they go from there? When a teenager is accused of an atrocity they didn’t commit and is sentenced to life in a prison cell, what kind of person will they become? When a stranger knocks on the door with the idea to set the story straight, what kind of truth will they demand be acknowledged?

Dark Places (available on demand now via DirecTV, and in theaters on 8/7) is the second film to be made based on a bestselling novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn. Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, a woman who has locked herself away from the world after the majority of her family was brutally murdered one night when she was very young. Her testimony helped put her brother behind bars, and since then she’s lived off the monetary kindness of others and by selling her story to the highest bidder. But now the money has run out and her only financial assistance is coming from a group of would-be detectives who think there is more to the murder of her mother and two older sisters than was previously known. Libby agrees to work with the group, at first hesitantly and later because of her own desire to know the truth. What really happened that night long ago when she lost everyone she loved?

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Like Gone Girl before it, Dark Places is a twisty thriller that showcases multiple sides to the story. Libby was just a little girl when she witnessed the murder of her family and her memory of that night is spotty at best. She knows she had a mother and sisters and a brother and that in the middle of the night she woke to find most of them dead and what appeared to be her brother responsible. But she was not the only one in the house that night. Her brother remembers his own side of the story, which involves sex and drugs and Satan and a desperate need to do the right thing for the girl he was in love with. And the film also shows, through flashbacks, the side of Libby Day’s mother – a woman with four children and no money to support them, a farm that was worthless, and a town demanding blood after her son was accused of a terrible crime. To solve the great mystery of the film, Libby has to follow the trail of all three stories and see the truth where they converge.

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Unfortunately, unlike Gone Girl, Dark Places fails to truly take viewers along for the emotional ride it wants them to experience. Though Charlize Theron is an extremely talented actress and plays prickly, angry, closed-off Libby Day to the best of her ability, there is very little to like or relate to in the main character. She’s a beautiful woman leading an ugly life who gets dragged into a mystery for selfish reasons and stays because she can’t seem to help herself. She is surrounded by two-dimensional characters (including Lyle, played by Nicholas Hoult who recently starred alongside Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road) who do little to enrich the story and who really seem superfluous the plot most times. And the ending, while surprising in some elements, feels forced and contrived in others.

Overall this film leaves you feeling like there should be MORE. More story, more character development, more time figuring things out and revealing the truth of the central mystery. Which is surprising considering how much voice-over and exposition there is to deal with. Every moment of explanation feels forced, as if filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner is desperate to cram as much back story as possible down your throat. But without likable characters or a proper build-up to suspenseful moments and the big murder mystery reveal, Dark Places falls short of taking viewers on the dark journey it intends.

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Brittni Williams is a freelance writer and blogger from the Midwest. After finishing up school in Arizona, she picked up and moved to Chicago where she currently resides with her cat, Pockets. She primarily covers entertainment topics and the occasional DIY piece. Her interests include playing tennis, traveling, and scouring the city for the best tacos. Find her on Twitter @brittni303


Have you seen Dark Places? Let us know what you think!

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2014 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

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Well, well, well, it’s that time of the year again where us film bloggers agonize in making these Top 10 list. Yes, agonize is not a hyperbole as it’s REALLY quite an arduous task not only selecting which 10 films would make the list, but also ranking them. But once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. I did make a Top 10 list from the first half of 2014, and it’s interesting to see which ones stay on the list and which ones are now relegated to my Honorable Mentions.

The same with the previous years, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already. The [dis]honor of the WORST films of the year is at the end of the BEST list.

Ok well, without further ado… I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2014

10. The LEGO Movie

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Everything is awesome! And still is. This is actually one of three animated features I absolutely LOVE from last year, but I decided I only wanted to include just ONE. The LEGO Movie wins by a narrow margin, beating out How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 to make it to my main list. It really comes down to Emmet being such an adorably goofy protagonist, surrounded by spin-off-worthy supporting cast like Lego Batman and Good Cop/Bad Cop, it’s really a fantabulous geekstravaganza that would likely hold up with repeated viewings. Plus, that music is simply, well, awesome! That unabashedly vivacious song makes my Top 5 Songs of the year as well. (full review)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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This is the first Wes Anderson movie that ever made it to my Top 10 of the year list, so I guess you could say it’s now my favorite of his collection. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end and it’s more fast-paced than his previous films. But of course it has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc. The ensemble cast is wonderful once again, led by Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role who’s an absolute blast to watch. I also enjoy F. Murray Abraham and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa, the ever-so-resourceful & loyal lobby boy. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again. (full review)

8. The Imitation Game

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This is no doubt one of my favorite films at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It won a TCFF 2014 Awards for Best Feature Film and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley also won acting honors. It’s a biopic on Alan Turing, a mathematician whose pivotal role in cracking the enigma code during WWII helped the Allies won the war against the Nazis. It’s an important film to be sure, boasted by a fantastic all-British cast led by a terrific Cumberbatch as the unsung hero. Though it may be a bit formulaic and by-the-numbers (pardon the puns), it’s still a highly entertaining, as well as emotionally-poignant film that stays with me after the closing credit. In a year of great ensemble-cast films, this is no doubt one of my favorites. I especially love Mark Strong & Matthew Goode here, two underrated performers who ought to get more leading roles of their own.

7. Citizenfour

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I only saw a few documentaries last year but this is the one that stuck with me the most. It seems like ages ago when we’re introduced to the name Edward Snowden, and since then some see him as either a traitor or a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras got an unprecedented access to one of the first of many meetings between reporter Glenn Greenwald (who at the time worked for The Guardian) and Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. It’s more of an eyewitness type documentary, allowing us the viewer to be a fly-on-the-wall so to speak as Snowden revealed the mechanics of those NSA intelligence leak. I remember vividly when his first photo was broadcasted all over the media and here we saw him wearing the exact same brown-ish shirt he wore for that shot. The doc may contain what’s seemingly mundane series of events of people talking in a hotel room, but it was utterly engrossing to me. It’s the implication of those conversations, and what it means to the central character and all of us who’s watching it that makes the scenes all the more captivating.

6. Selma

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“Selma is at once a peek into the past and a snapshot of the present.” I like the title of this AVClub review because it sums up the film perfectly. I’m glad there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of Martin Luther King’s story, but I’m glad this film isn’t a conventional biopic. Instead, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb effectively focused on the pivotal event of his life and made this more about the collective struggle for voting rights. Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies about Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal, which isn’t the first time liberties are taken on films based on real-life events. But I think apart from that, this is a powerful and gripping film, uncomfortably tense at times, especially during the Bloody Sunday sequence. The issue of police brutality couldn’t be more timely considering the events in Ferguson and NYC, which makes it all the more poignant and heart-wrenching. David Oyelowo embodied the role of King, convincing in both the fiery moments of his speeches, as well as the quieter moments with his wife (portrayed brilliantly by Carmen Ejogo).

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I haven’t re-watched this film since I saw it back in July, yet I still remember much about how I felt about the main character, Caesar. The fact that he’s not even a human being says a lot about how good the character development of the last two ‘Apes’ films and this sequel took us a step further into Caesar’s journey. The ‘king of mo-cap acting’ Andy Serkis once again delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the apes leader. His eyes convey so much that they’re practically hypnotic. Director Matt Reeves created a suspenseful & atmospheric piece here that’s immediately engrossing. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film, as well as genuinely poignant moments that tug my heartstrings. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. (full review)

4. Belle

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I feel like a broken record when it comes to miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but she’s truly one of the best talent discoveries in a good long while. She’s the heart and soul of this film, displaying a nuanced and charismatic performance in nearly every scene. I’m also glad to have discovered director Amma Assante, who shows such dexterity in her sophomore feature, crafting a beautifully layered and affecting historical drama. There are so many things to love here, and after having seen this four times already, I’m still mesmerized. Visually it’s just a stunning film, the gorgeous lighting brings out the best of the costumes, set pieces, etc. But it’s the rich, engrossing story and brilliant performances by the all-British cast that make this such a rewarding film to see over and over. (full review)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I knew this film would make my final Top 10 from the first time I watched it. This is another movie on this list I’ve seen more than twice and I still absolutely loved it! It’s one of the rare sequel that easily surpasses the the first one. Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that promise and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero! (full review)

2. Gone Girl

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It’s a testament of a great film when it clocks in at 2.5 hours and it went by like a breeze. Dark, twisted, stylish, and even mesmerizing, Gone Girl is one of those movies that play like a thrilling roller coaster ride. Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn made this more of a psychological character study of a couple in a crumbling marriage that turns more sinister by the minute. Rosamund Pike was nothing short of amazing as the year’s certifiable female anti-hero you love to hate. She gave an intense and haunting performance that’s absolutely Oscar-worthy. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining. (full review)

1. Birdman

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. The use of the continuous long takes helps tell the story in such a unique and immersive way that completely absorbs you. But the story itself is rich and full of thought-provoking allegory, brought to life by Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s adept direction. It’s one of those rare films where style actually meets substance, as the story brilliantly blends fantasy & reality, drama & comedy in a way that can be both deep as well as entertaining. It has its darker and even vulgar moments I don’t typically embrace, but it never overpowers the protagonist’s journey, which is the heart of the story. On top of all that is the phenomenal performances across the board, led by Michael Keaton in the lead role, one that I’ll been rooting for the entire award season. (full review)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these movies were actually in my Top 10 list of the first half of 2014. I marked those with an * (asterisk), this time I’m NOT ranking these, so they’re listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Begin Again
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Chef
  4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  5. Edge of Tomorrow*
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Grand Seduction*
  9. How To Train Your Dragon 2*
  10. The Hundred Foot Journey
  11. John Wick
  12. Locke*
  13. The Machine*
  14. Time Lapse
  15. X-Men: Days of Future Past*

What I missed from 2014:

Boyhood, Calvary, Ida, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Theory of Everything, Still Alice, Under the Skin, and Whiplash.


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Now, I wish I could get my 2+ hours back from each of these awful movies! Ok I saw most of these at press screening, so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for them, but still they’re such a waste of my time. Avoid these if you can help it, consider yourself warned.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like  I Frankenstein, Pompeii, Blended, Transcendence, The Best of Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

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As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing 😉 In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

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Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

gg_5014 gg_8780 gg_4411Thanks to Sati for letting me borrow her pics of Amy Dunne

It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

Top10FaveFilmScores2014I’m so behind on my year-end top ten lists, but hey, I think January is still a great time for those lists right? 😉 I was listening to NPR two nights ago and caught host Robert Siegel interviewing composer Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Road To Perdition, Wall•E, etc.) and naturally I started thinking about some of my favorite scores from 2014.

Well, there are a few that I know would make my list, but it was pretty challenging to settle on the last three or four of them. If you’ve been keeping up with my Music Break posts, you might not be surprised by some of my picks here. Now, for this list, I’m focusing on instrumental film scores instead of songs. Thus you won’t see soundtracks of The Guardians of The Galaxy for example, though I think that’s awesome! I will cover the Top 10 Songs in a separate post.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Belle – Rachel Portman

For some reason I had never paid attention to Rachel Portman‘s work before, though she had quite a stellar resume scoring for Emma (that won her an Oscar), Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Never Let Me Go, etc. I absolutely adore her lush and elegant score she did for Belle and it just suits the tone of the film so well. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack and loved every second! If you read my review, you know how much I adore this film and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Portman’s music somehow captures Belle’s emotional journey as well as the romantic side of her relationship with John Davinier.

2. Breathe In – Dustin O’Halloran

After I saw this film, I was inspired to do a list of memorable piano moments on film, but I haven’t posted the score from the film. I’m not familiar with composer/pianist Dustin O’Halloran at all, but after this one, I definitely will keep an eye (and ear) out for him. There’s a bit of Philip Glass’ influence in his work here, and sure enough, when I checked on his Wiki page, he’s influenced by Glass as well as another favorite composer of mine, Ennio Morricone. I grew up listening to piano music as my mother’s a huge fan of French pianist Richard Clayderman. There’s something so ethereal about this score that makes me swoon. The film is atmospheric and intimate, and this music complements that tone beautifully.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman

One of my favorite Marvel superhero movies also have one of my fave soundtracks ever. Henry Jackman should just score every Marvel movie as I LOVE LOVE his X-Men: First Class soundtrack. I thought that Alan Silvestri’s fantastic job for the first Captain America film was hard to top, yet I think Jackman managed to do an equally phenomenal work here. The first one had a strong retro vibe with unabashed patriotism that’s fun and infectious. This one the nationalistic sensibilities is toned down a bit, but the score is still dynamic but a little darker and more ominous. It’s as if the music reflects Captain’s more conflicted moral sense as he navigates the more complex and intricate world he’s suddenly thrown into.

4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

I’m not always fond of electronic music but there’s something so hypnotic about the somber sound of Gone Girl’s score. It’s as beautiful as Amy Dunne, but just as unsettling. This Technically, Missing track is perhaps my favorite of the entire album. It’s spine-tingling yet lush, melodious yet haunting, exactly how you’d feel about this story. Every time the repetitive three notes are played, it always takes me back to that big sprawling house where the doomed couple descend into madness. This is Reznor/Ross’ third collaboration with David Fincher and they seem to be even more adept at capturing the psychology of his work.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

I first heard of the Desplat when he worked on The King’s Speech back in 2011, and ever since then I’ve become a big fan of this prolific and brilliant composer. I LOVE the more classical-tinged style of his work like The Painted Veil or Tree of Life, but I can’t help being entertained by the playfulness of this score. Just like the film, it’s just so quirky and whimsical and it definitely has a strong eastern-European sound. Desplat incorporates Russian folk songs and pieces and some were performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra.

6. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I LOVE John Powell‘s work for this animated feature. I actually love the score for the first film more, but the score of the sequel is equally excellent. I have featured the soaring Beyond the Clouds track before in a Music Break post back in June. Now this one is just simply a lush track including the sweet choir sound that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s truly an amazing and inspiring work that I love listening to time and time again.

7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

It’s incredible how different this score is from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this one sounds more like something I’d expect from Desplat. I love classical music and there’s definitely a lot of classical influence in his work. This particular score somehow captures that enigmatic and mysterious quality of the subject matter that is Alan Turing. It also has a tinge of sadness that really hits you in the gut as you listen to it. The repetitive quality somehow makes me think of the Turing Machine and its mechanical process. It’s amazing that according to IMDb, Desplat only had three weeks to score this film, and that’s that’s three weeks from signing on to finishing the last recording session! He said he had the same amount of time to score The Queen, too. Wow, they certainly got a genius to score a film about a genius.

8. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of a genius, is there anything Mr. Zimmer can’t do? Seems that no matter what genre, Zimmer somehow could create a music that complement the subject matter. Now, I’ve mentioned in my Interstellar review that I didn’t like how overpowering the music was when it’s played over scenes with dialog. But when I listened to it afterwards, I fell in love with it. Now that I think about it, I think I love the soundtrack much more than the film. It’s like a love letter to space exploration in musical term. It somehow captures the more grounded familial love theme of the story, as well as the grandiose cosmological journey that the characters – and us the viewers – experience. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but I like the slower, more introspective music than the more intense versions like the one used in the docking scene.

9. John Wick – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard

Yet another electronic style music I’m loving from this year. This soundtrack, and this track in particular, has become a staple during my workout routine. It always adds a dose of adrenaline rush whenever I’m not feeling that motivated to get on the elliptical machine. There’s a retro vibe to this soundtrack that adds to the cool factor. It’s one of those pulsating soundtracks that a DJ could spin in a dance club, as John Wick himself performed lots of his dance of death in nightclubs or discotheques.

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10. Maleficent – James Newton Howard

In keeping with the darker, more mature story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, gone are the chirpy and dreamy-like music of the original. Once Upon A Dream is one of my all time favorite Disney songs, and Lana Del Rey’s rendition will surely end up in my favorite 2014 songs list. Now, the score itself still retains that magical/fairy-tale quality with the composer commanding a large orchestra with a full choir. It’s lush and playful at times but not too Disney-fied the way say, Frozen was. This Maleficent Flies score, complete with the fairy dust sound effects, is just so ethereal and gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite and the one I remember most from the film.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I – James Newton Howard

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So what do you think of my picks of favorite 2014 scores? Feel free to share your own favorites!

FlixChatter Review: GONE GIRL (2014)

GoneGirlBnrFew films this year got as much feverish anticipation as this one. To be honest, I got a bit worried this film wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but I’m glad to report that I wasn’t disappointed. I’m also glad that since I haven’t read the book, I managed to avoid any spoilers about the plot so it was nice to be surprised by the twist and turns as I’m watching the film.

The opening is quite provocative, as it opens with a shot of a beautiful blond woman, along with a male speaking voice saying how it would be nice to crack open her skull to see just what’s inside her head, to see what she is thinking. There’s an air of mystery around her which sets the tone of the entire film. Now, on a different film, we might chalk that narration up as a figure of speech. But in this case, given the title of the film, it definitely makes you think the worst. Well, Gone Girl definitely keeps toying with our perceptions throughout, and that’s part of the fun.

GoneGirl_Still1In case you don’t know anything about the basic plot, here’s the gist: On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) left his home in the morning to a bar he co-owned with his twin sister. When he came back, he couldn’t find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) anywhere in his sprawling house, and there’s obvious signs of a break in. So he reports his wife missing and before he knows it, there’s a growing media frenzy on his case that puts extra pressure on him on top of the also-growing suspicion from the police that he’s killed her.

Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, this film deals more about the psychological aspect of the crumbling of a seemingly-blissful union and how Nick & Amy deal with their mounting problems. The issue behind the marriage dissolution itself isn’t at all uncommon, lots of us can relate to the issue of layoffs and growing apart when expectations no longer aligns with reality. But of course, this story takes a sinister turn that leaves you wondering just what the heck happens. The beauty of the film is that, it doesn’t rely on the twist [a la M. Night Shyamalan’s films] to shock or entertain you. Instead, it’s more of a character study of a married couple – who probably shouldn’t be married in the first place – as well as a commentary of the worst side of media frenzy that toys with the public’s perception about a given story.

GoneGirl_Still3Despite the dark subject matter, this film isn’t overly bleak or depressing. Thanks to the taut screenplay by first-time screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who happens to be the author of the best-selling author novel it’s based on. I’m glad David Fincher agreed to work with her instead of hiring a more experienced screenwriter. I think having been ‘living’ with these characters on her head for so long definitely help make them more fleshed-out. Apparently Flynn actually studied his films as she’s writing the script which explains the synergy going on here. Fincher’s direction is solid all around, the story is clearly tailor-made for him. I like the timeline marking of how many days Amy has been gone, and the use of flashbacks are seamless and effective. The journal entries from Amy’s diary gives us a bit of insight into Amy’s side of the story, yet it wasn’t overdone that it’d actually grind the film to a halt. Fincher’s almost surgical precision is apparent in how he sets up every scene. Just like any real-life crime investigation, painstaking eye for details is absolutely critical.

Fincher’s longtime collaborator Trent Reznor provides a cool and eerie score to go with that somber color-scheme. At first I felt like his score was a bit intrusive in the first scenes when Nick & Amy met, but I think it might’ve been intentional. In some key moments, the vigorous & ominous score definitely gets your heart pounding! Another longtime Fincher collaborator is cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, whose visual sensibility works with Fincher’s style and therefore helps set the mood. The naturalistic style used here fits the tone of the film and the Midwest setting nicely.

GoneGirl_Still2Bringing the story to life are Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, two beautiful people forming a marriage from hell. For once, Affleck just might get some accolades for his acting instead of directing. I do think he was excellent in Hollywoodland, and in a way there’s some similarities between Nick and George Reeves as he was also at his lowest point professionally. The film however, belongs to the girl in the title role. Pike was nothing short of well, amazing. I’ve seen her in about five films so far, but mostly in supporting roles, and I’ve never seen the kind of range she displayed here. She was perfect as ‘Amazing Amy’, a brilliant ice princess type, the embodiment of her parents perfect image in the book series named after their daughter. At times she reminds me of Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For, but there’s still a vulnerability about her that keeps you from truly despising her. I knew the British beauty could handle the sinister aspect of her character, but still I was floored by how good she was and her American accent is pretty convincing as well. I so hope she’d get some nominations come award-season, she’s definitely the breakout female performer of the year for me.

The supporting cast includes some rather off-the-wall choices playing against type. Tyler Perry is quite amusing as Nick’s top-notch lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy ex-boyfriend. The latter threw me off a bit as I somehow didn’t know he was part of the cast. Given Harris’ personal life, it took me a while to see him as a straight guy being obsessed over a girl, but I think he pulled it off. I also have to mention Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens as Nick’s sister and the detective, respectively. Both were excellent playing key roles in the story. Interesting casting of Sela Ward as a TV reporter here given that she played the murdered wife in The Fugitive where the husband was accused of killing her.

GoneGirl_Stills4Spoiler alert [highlight text below if you want to read it]
I feel that Amy might’ve gotten away w/ murder too easily. There’s a moment at the police station when Nick immediately knew she had deliberately killed Desi. “How did she manage to find a box cutter when she’s tied up all the time?” He quipped, but the male cop who’s always disliked him brushed him off. But also there’s the issue about all the blood that was mopped up in the kitchen. If she said she had been hit by her abductor, wouldn’t the cops at the very least try to corroborate her story and find some kind of proof that her story checks out? It’s not a huge quibble but it did bother me after I saw the movie.

So what’s the verdict? Well, Gone Girl definitely lives up to the hype. It’s more entertaining than I thought it would be. This will likely end up in my top 5 favorite Fincher films, perhaps between Fight Club and The Social Network which also have some humorous moments sprinkled throughout. I love it when a movie sparks a lot of discussions and makes you ponder about your own life situation. As I haven’t read the book, I can’t comment if the film is better than that or not, but I think it works in the big screen format. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining.

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So what do you think of Gone Girl? Did it live up to YOUR expectations?

Five for the Fifth: OCTOBER 2014 Edition

FiveForFifth2014

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Inspired by my recent viewing of Gone Girl which features yet another collaboration between David Fincher & Trent Reznor, it made me think of other great director/composer partnerships.

Fincher_Reznor

Fincher & Reznor have collaborated on Se7en, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo previously. There are many other similar partnerships that have churned out amazing works: Steven Spielberg & John Williams, Christopher Nolan & Hans Zimmer, Ridley Scott & Hans Zimmer, J.J. Abrams & Michael Giacchino, Peter Jackson & James Horner, just to name a few. Wiki has a list of all director/composer partnerships if you’re curious.

So what’s your favorite director/composer collaborations?
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2. I just want to highlight a couple of new trailers that came out in the last couple of weeks. The main draw for me for both of these are the filmmakers. Now, first one is Blackhat.

A man is released from prison to help American and Chinese authorities pursue a mysterious cyber criminal. The dangerous search leads them from Chicago to Hong Kong.

Now, I’m most curious to see this mostly because I LOVE Michael Mann‘s work and he’s the kind of director who’d go into great lengths into researching his films. His last film he directed was Public Enemies in 2009, and though it’s my least fave film of his, I’m still hugely anticipating what he’ll tackle next. I wonder if he’s spent the last five years researching about cyber crime, but that doesn’t seem far-fetched to me. The casting of Chris Hemsworth as a hacker is a bit odd, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m a fan of Viola Davis however, and the cast & scenery does have an international flair to it. Btw, did you catch that ‘big hammer’ reference in the trailer? 😉

The other one that really piqued my interest is Paul Thomas Anderson‘s comedy caper Inherent Vice.

In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.


Confession: I haven’t seen any of PT’s film before. Yes I know, I know, I guess I better get on that. This one might be the first of his movies I’d see on the big screen. It looks like a dark comedy and there are some goofy parts in the trailer, which is interesting as I don’t normally see him directing comedies, but it intrigues me even more. Plus the cast is fantastic, especially Joaquin Phoenix who’s such a chameleon!

Does either one of these trailers pique your interest?

3. Now, this is a VERY special topic for me, considering how big of a fan I am of the massively talented Toby Stephens. Not only is he joining Twitter, woo hoo, he’s also making his directorial debut in a short film called In Vitro, hence his Twitter handle. Ahah, his Twitter background photo is hilarious!

TobyOnTwitter

As Toby’s described in his own words, In Vitro is a film that subtly explores how infertility can erode a marriage, and what can happen when cold science, replaces passion and a sense of mutual purpose. It’s a subject that’s rarely explored in film, but it’s one that [he] feels needs to be. Sounds like one of my fave British actors, Rupert Penry-Jones, have signed on to be the lead actor! How awesome, as both will be in Black Sails 2 next year!

Toby’s looking to get support via the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, here’s the direct link to his project. I’m so thrilled for him and you can bet I’m one of the contributors! 😉 Check out the video w/ all the details:

Thoughts on this project? I’m also curious which crowd-funding project(s) are you supporting and/or planning to?
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4. Last night I watched Jon Favreau’s Chef which was pretty enjoyable. Man, even though we watched it after dinner, those food porn shots definitely got us salivating.

ChefMoviePics

Chef is the perfect feel-good movie for the weekend, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The story is pretty engaging though editing could’ve been much tighter. I think a 90-min film would’ve suffice for a story like this one, and the two Iron Man cast (RDJ & Scarlett Johansson) weren’t given hardly anything to do in their gratuitous cameos. Still, the food stuff are incredible. It certainly made me want to take up more cooking and I wish there’s a Cubano food truck like El Jefe here in town!! Last time I was wiping my drool as I watching was when I saw Julie & Julia and Today’s Special.

What are YOUR fave food movies you’d recommend?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is my pal Melissa from SnapCrackleWatch blog!

SnapCrackleWatchBlog

Originally we’re going to discuss holiday movies, but let’s table that until November 🙂

CharlieBrownPumpkinSpecialSince it’s October, and a lot of people are excited about Halloween, Melissa was wondering if you have a film tradition, whether it’s horror or otherwise, to celebrate the season. Melissa mentioned the Charlie Browns Pumpkin Special, which is something I’d be far more inclined to watch than any of the horror offerings out there. For those not a fan of scary movies like me, there are some horror-comedies that are fun to watch year after year, like Shaun of the Dead, Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, The Corpse Bride, etc.

So, do you have a Halloween viewing tradition, if so what is it? 


Well, that’s it for the October 2014 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀

Everybody’s Chattin’ & Question of the Week on Breakthrough Performer of 2014

Happy Thursday everybody! I’m going to hit two birds with one stone again today, combining two post *series* in one. I want to highlight some of my fave posts from the past week, as well as pick your brain on the topic of the week: Breakthrough Performer of 2014  😀

EverybodysChattinOk, so let’s start with the links, shall we?

  • Mark reviewed Frank which he calls a wonderful one-of-a-kind, whilst Natalie reviewed Cronenberg’s latest, Maps to The Stars
  • FincherTheGuardianAs Sati‘s been hugely anticipating Gone Girl, she kept up her David Fincher series by ranking his films.
  • Speaking of Gone Girl, Katy wrote this great article about the The Strangely Brilliant Career of Ben Affleck
  • Michael reviewed Tales From Earthsea, a thought-provoking fantasy film from Studio Ghibli and Melissa reviewed the recent thriller The Drop.
  • Cindy‘s perceptive eye is what keeps me coming back to her blog. This week she compares Kubrick’s stares vs Spielberg’s faces in their films
  • There’s been a lot of interesting blog series lately, check out Fisti’s Twice a Best Actress Bloggers roundtable, great discussion with my fellow movie bloggers
  • As I’m anticipating Twin Cities Film Fest in two weeks, my pal Melissa has been busy covering San Diego Film Fest! Check out her latest review of this coming-of-age drama Laggies.
    LaggiesMovieStill
  • A few notable September recaps w/ some great recommendations from Kristin, Chris and Steven.
  • Last but not least, A couple of classic reviews worth checking out: Paula‘s review of PULP for her Mickey Rooney Blogathon, and Stu‘s review of early 50s noir The Hoodlum.

Now for Question of the Week!

RosamundPike_GoneGirlWell, it’s inspired by the release of Gone Girl, more specifically the buzz Rosamund Pike‘s been getting in the role of Amy, I thought this would be an intriguing topic. Now that we’ve only got three months left in the year, we might have a few favorites of performances from this year’s movies. Now, they could either be from *new* actors who’ve never acted before on the big screen, or someone’s who’s been acting for a while but just recently caught your attention. I think the latter is far more interesting and Pike might fit the bill for a lot of people. She has been acting for some time in the UK and has been churning some great performances here in Hollywood as well, but Gone Girl might launch her career on a whole new level.


So my question to you is:

Which actor(s) do you think gives the breakthrough performance of the year?

P.S. I shall be launching a new mini-series highlighting some great performances of the year, so stay tuned! 😀